Exploiting Your Charity
Maybe this is an easy question (it’s certainly an old one): Should we punish you more if you defraud someone by tricking her into giving you money that she believes is going to charity than if you defraud someone by tricking her into giving you money that she believes is going into an investment that will make her rich?
Yesterday afternoon, I received a text message from the number for the Pennsylvania voter protection project that I did volunteer work for back in the fall of 2008:
Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti (Text STOP to unsubscribe Msg&Data rates may apply)
In the previous few days, I’d received a number of similar appeals from friends as result of efforts by the Mobile Giving Foundation (“The Mobile Giving Foundation brings the power and reach of mobile phones to nonprofit organizations as a new fundraising and donor interaction mechanism”) and other organizations.
From all accounts, the text message campaigns have been tremendously successful. According to organizers, by Thursday night, $2 million had already been raised for the Red Cross. However, the campaigns have also opened the ways for scammers of all sorts. As the FBI explained, in a warning issued last week, “Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization.” And, sure enough—as with 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the earthquake in China—that appears to be happening again, which leads to the punishment question.
I would not be surprised to find out that some of the same folks behind the email schemes from the “desperate” Nigerian government official who offers several million dollars for your “help” are the same ones behind the new Haiti earthquake relief scams. Should they receive stiffer sentences for being convicted of perpetrating the latter than perpetrating the former? Anyone want to argue that they shouldn’t?